Clouds of tear gas, blasts of pepper spray and firing of non-lethal projectiles to disperse protesters denouncing racism could prompt renewed examination of policies governing police conduct in Ohio.
Five years after instituting the first statewide standards for police use of force, including deadly force, after white Ohio officers killed African Americans, a state board could join local officials in a reassessment.
The Ohio Collaborative Police-Community Advisory Board, a creation of former Gov. John Kasich, could examine whether the state should establish the first-ever standard on law enforcement response to mass protests.
Complaints of excessive police use of non-lethal force against protesters rallying in response to the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer have been common across Ohio.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said he believes the state advisory board on which he sits should discuss fashioning parameters to guide officers in dealing with protests.
The group could potentially set a standard specifying which situations should prompt the use of tear gas, pepper spray and non-lethal projectiles — and which should not, O’Brien said.
“Whether such a standard can be easily crafted, I don’t know,” O’Brien said. “It would be an appropriate discussion, and I would be in favor.”
The prosecutor believes the board’s prior work benefited law enforcement and communities statewide by setting a clear set of standards and expectations. “There were some agencies that did not have a deadly force policy,” which O’Brien said he was incredulous to learn.
Karhlton Moore, executive director of the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services, has been the board’s liaison since its creation after the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland while he held a toy Airsoft gun.
Police conduct in protests could be a new topic for discussion, he said. “With the backdrop of everything we’ve seen, it certainly is possible there could be some kind of recommendation in that area,” Moore said.
Sidney Police Chief William Balling, new president of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, said he would not object to discussions of improved police policy in responding to often-heated protests.
“We are very fortunate they come up very infrequently, and when they do, we have to know how to appropriately respond” through standards and training, the chief said.
“We have to give our personnel guidance and training to make sure we are doing the things we need to do,” Balling said. “Everyone has a right to voice their opinion and no one should fear that wrong tactics will be used.”
While Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein and Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and civil-rights groups are calling for citizen boards to review police misconduct and use of force, the collaborative board rejected such a call from its predecessor task force in 2015.
The board spurned a recommendation to pursue creation of local citizen review boards to investigate police misconduct and use outside prosecutors and an independent investigation unit to examine fatal shootings.
Gov. Mike DeWine, who helped usher in increased training for police as attorney general, called last week for ongoing changes and improvement in the wake of the demonstrations.
Moore said the police standards effort initially was met years ago with some pushback but prompted overdue self-examination. “Law enforcement realized it was important to get their house in order.”
Statewide, 443 police agencies, which cover 74% of Ohio’s population, now are certified. Many that are not in compliance with the voluntary standards are smaller and rural departments.
Twenty-four police agencies in Franklin County, covering 97% of its population, are certified. Eight smaller agencies, all with 27 officers or less, do not. (Go to www.ocjs.ohio.gov/links/Ohio-CollaborativeReport2020.pdf to see your police agency.)
“The most important thing we accomplished was to create an environment where many law enforcement agencies that had not looked at their policies in a really long time, and some that did not have policies decided they needed assessment,” he said.
“We had a number of agencies when we created this (use of force) standard that went back and saw they had neck and choke holds and they made the decision it really wasn’t something they want to do,” Moore said about the Minneapolis officer’s kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
Police recruits are taught in basic training that neck restraints should not be used in subduing suspects unless the life of an officer or another person is on the line, said a spokesman for Attorney General Dave Yost, whose office operates the Police Officer Training Academy.
“It is for deadly force situations only, similar to one that would necessitate a firearm,” he said.
While most police agencies had standards that met or exceeded the state standards that took effect in 2017, many smaller agencies did not — and some had none.
The deadly-force standard stresses “the preservation of human life is of the highest value in the state of Ohio” while stating officers must use deadly force only to protect themselves and others from serious injury or death.
Kasich and former state senator Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat whose son is a police officer, discussed the initiative in an appearance on CNN last week and also authored an op-ed piece for the cable network.
“Our goal was to find durable solutions to the fraught relationships between police and the communities they are meant to protect in order to safeguard the rights of all Ohioans,” they wrote.
“This isn’t pie-in-the-sky. It’s real and it works. We know because it worked for us.”
The first-ever statewide police standards also include recruiting and hiring, community engagement, body camera use, dispatching, bias-free policing and investigation of misconduct.